96% of divorce and family law cases in America are billed “by the hour.”
This means attorneys bill for the time spent working on a case. To be more specific, attorneys bill minimum increments of time (e.g., .1 hours (6 minutes), .2 hours (12 minutes)) for each task they work on.
So, if you call an attorney and talk about your case for five minutes, you’ll be billed either .1 or .2 for the phone call. Same for emails.
So, What Am I Really Paying For?
This paying-for-time system seems to make sense. Other industries bill for the time they spend doing their jobs (e.g., accountants, plumbers, car mechanics), but an attorney’s billing rate is much higher.
But why is that? What am I really paying for?
About the why, divorce attorneys tend to be more expensive than mechanics and the like because (1) there are fewer of us, and (2) what we do is ultra important to people and their families.
And what you’re really paying for is three things (there are other things as well, but these are the main three):
- Time. Since lawyers aren’t creating a widget or some physical product, they bill for the time spent on the service provided. This makes sense.
- Knowledge and expertise. You are also paying for the years of experience and the tens-of-thousands of hours work an attorney has done up to this point in his or her career. That knowledge and skill makes an attorney’s advice very valuable (if they’re good at what they do, that is), so they charge for it.
(Note: Some people are put off by the fact attorneys bill for answering questions when the attorneys don’t have to look anything up. Look, the only reason the attorney knows the answer without looking up anything is because he or she has the expertise and experience necessary to have memorized the answer. That experience and expertise is worth every penny.)
- Reputation. Next to legal knowledge, the most important attribute for any attorney is reputation. A good reputation means an attorney will be more effective in court (judge’s trust them), in mediation, and in negotiations. Lawyers guard their reputations with religious fervor because reputation is that important.
Each of these things get figured in to the hourly rate you pay an attorney or a law firm.
So, in the end, what you’re paying an attorney for is time, knowledge, expertise, and reputation.
Now, don’t feel bad if you didn’t know any of this. Many attorneys are poor communicators about (1) what they do, (2) how they do it, and (3) the value of their service. It’s not your fault if you don’t understand the system; it’s the attorney’s fault. We should be educating our clients on every aspect of how things work.
Hopefully, this has helped explain a little better why you pay the price you pay for an attorney.